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Is he really gone?

Species: Dog
Breed: Labrador
Age: More than 15 ye
My very elderly dog very sadly had to be put to sleep a few days ago. This was carried out at my home by a vet I trust 100% and I was with my dog until the very end, so I witnessed the whole procedure. It was all carried out very gently and peacefully.

However, I have a nagging and worrisome (and obsessive!) doubt in my mind and I hope that you can help me - it may sound foolish, but I can't help but wonder - what if my dog wasn't completely dead?

My dog was sedated first with a small injection which took effect within 5 to 10 mins. I also saw the main injection of barbiturate and saw the vet draw some blood into the syringe before injecting the barbiturate (so proving that she was indeed injecting into a vein in his leg). Within seconds my lovely dog had passed peacefully away. His heartbeat was checked and there was nothing (his breathing may have also been checked, it's hard to remember all of the events). After a few minutes his bladder emptied, and there was also a single exhalation of air, presumably as his lungs collapsed. When we moved him a while later, some fluid came out of his mouth and nose. I looked at his body and there was no sign of breathing.

Now I know this sounds daft, but is there even a remote chance of him coming back to life after all that? I just have this horrible obsessive thought of him not being fully dead and coming back to life in the vets' refrigerator or freezer (the vets took him back to the practice as we wanted him cremated). Surely though none of the aforementioned events would NOT have occurred if he hadn't died (the voiding of the bladder, the finale exhalation of breath, the fluid from the nose and mouth)?

I guess I'm just looking for reassurance here. I daren't ask my vet this or she may think I'm asking if she did her job properly, which is most certainly NOT the case. It's me that's the problem here. The grieving process is causing these crazy, worrisome thoughts to ping around in my brain.

So, as mentioned above, surely none of the aforementioned events would NOT have occurred if he hadn't died (the voiding of the bladder, the final exhalation of breath, the fluid from the nose and mouth)?

I'm sorry if this appears even vaguely ridiculous. Many thanks in anticipation of your answer.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I'm very sorry to hear about Charlie.

I want to let you know that the thoughts you are having are actually very common.

Many times, just after I have euthanized a dog, the owner will say, "Are you sure he is dead?" Often they will swear that they can see the animal breathing.

The medication that we use for IV injection works 100% of the time. If you saw the vet draw blood back into the syringe then we know that the vet was in the vein. I have had the odd case where the injection did not completely go into the vein but rather went under the skin. (When this happens it tends to be uncomfortable for the dog and the dog pulls away). If the injection goes subcutaneously then we will often need to give more in order to cause death.

However, you've given me several other signs that Charlie had passed. The bladder often will empty as all of the muscles relax right after death. And the fluid coming out of the mouth and nose is only something that happens after death.

The final breath that you mentioned is common as well. Sometimes, an animal will be deceased and then several minutes later the body can have muscle contractions and cause another breath. That is often hard to explain to owners who are having a hard time dealing with believing that their animal is truly gone.

I'm very sorry for your loss. Please know that your fears are common ones. But, you can rest assured that Charlie really is gone.

Dr. Marie.



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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. AskAVetQuestion.com and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you very much for your fast, kind and informed response, it's really helped to put my mind at rest.



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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.